AskDefine | Define monophony

Dictionary Definition

monophony n : music consisting of a single vocal part (usually with accompaniment) [syn: monophonic music, monody] [ant: polyphony, polyphony]

Extensive Definition

In music, monophony is the simplest of textures, consisting of melody without accompanying harmony. This may be realized as just one note at a time, or with the same note duplicated at the octave (such as often when men and women sing together). If the entire melody is sung by two voices or a choir with an interval between the notes or in unison, it is also said to be in monophony. Music in which all the notes sung are in unison is called monophonic. Musical texture is determined in song and music by varying different components. Songs intersperse monophony, heterophony, polyphony, homophony, or monody elements throughout the melody to create atmosphere and style. Monophony may also have a complex rhythmic element, as when percussion accompanies a melody in some types of Chinese or Indian music.
According to Adris Butterfield (1997), monophony "is the dominant mode of the European vernacular genres as well as of Latin song [...] in polyphonic works, it remains a central compositional principle." Polyphony has two or more independent melodic voices. Monophony is one voice in music rather like a soliloquoy.



Plainchant or Plainsong with its single unaccompanied vocal melody is one of the principle examples of monophony. Sung by multiple voices in unison (i.e. the same pitch and rhythm), this music is still considered monophonic. Plainsong was the first and foremost musical style of Italy, Ireland, Spain, and France.

Monophony with instrumental doubling

DeLone et al. (1975, p.99) more loosely defines monophony as "passages, movements, or sections in which notes sound alone, despite instrumental doubling" even if "such passages may involve several instruments or voices."

Stravinsky's March monophony

Textures in Stravinsky's Renard, such as the first bars of the opening "March", border on heterophony, being "ragged unison".

Chant styles

Mozarabic chant, Byzantine Chant, Beneventan chant, Ambrosian chant, Gregorian chant and others were various forms of Medieval music which were all monophonic. Many of these monophonic chants were written as the first sheet music and preserved in hand written manuscripts and bound. Dodecachordon was published by the Swiss Renaissance composer Heinrich Glarean (also Glareanus) and included plainsong or Gregorian chant and monophony.

Sacred monophony

Music of India

Indian classical music is an ancient form of music therapy where monophonic melodies called ragas are played to activate "chakras" (Chi energy wheels) to attain realization on the Kundalini yogic path. Drone instruments, are followed by the soloist, then accompanists and percussionists.
''For more information see also Music history of India.

Troubador song monophony

Most Troubador songs were monophonic. Aristocratic troubadours and trouvères played religious devotion in courtly performances for kings, queens, and countesses. Guillaume de Machaut, poet and composer in the 14th century produced many songs which can be seen as extensions of the Provençal Troubador tradition, such as his secular monophonic lais and virelais. Jehan de Lescurel (or Jehannot de l'Escurel), poet and composer northern French Trouvère) also wrote monophonic songs in the style of virelais, ballades, rondeaux and diz entés. Minnesänger were similar to the French style but in Middle High German.

Lutheran Church chorale

Monophony was the first type of texture in the Lutheran Church Hymn or chorale, which became polyphonic around 1524.

Geisslerlieder or Flagellant songs

Geisslerlieder, or Flagellant songs were monophonic Laude spirituale songs used in the 13th and 17th century by flagellants, and recorded in the medieval chronicle Chronicon Hugonis sacerdotis de Rutelinga (1349).

See also


  • Ardis Butterfield (1997). "Monophonic song: questions of category", Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816540-4.
  • Copland, Aaron. "What to Listen for in Music". Published by Signet Classic, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY, 10014. Library of Congress catalogue 98-53893.
  • DeLone et al. (Eds.) (1975). Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.

External links

monophony in German: Monophonie
monophony in Modern Greek (1453-): Μονοφωνία
monophony in Spanish: Monofonía
monophony in Italian: Monofonia
monophony in Hebrew: מונופוניה
monophony in Japanese: モノフォニー
monophony in Polish: Monofonia
monophony in Slovenian: Monofonija
monophony in Finnish: Monofonia
monophony in Swedish: Monofoni (musik)
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